India’s government has sent notices to social media platforms ordering them to take down content that refers to an “Indian variant” of the COVID-19 virus, Reuters reported. The letter from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology sent Friday was not made public, but was viewed by several news outlets.
The Press Trust of India also reported that platforms were asked to “remove all the content that names, refers to, or implies ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus from your platform immediately.”
It was not clear which social media outlets received the letter, but India’s government has recently ordered Twitter to remove tweets and Facebook and Instagram to take down posts that were critical of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is no such variant of COVID-19 scientifically cited as such by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO has not associated the term ‘Indian Variant’ with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in any of its reports,” the letter states, adding that the phrase is “completely FALSE.”
India is a massive market for social media companies. Statistics from January show it is Twitter’s third largest. India’s government this year introduced guidelines it said were intended to curb misuse of social media and the spread of misinformation.
If what is termed “unlawful” material appears on a platform, the company can be given a takedown order. If it does not comply within a deadline, it can face the possibility of prosecution. The rules in essence mean companies cannot evade responsibility for what users post, now questions have arisen over whether these guidelines promote more censorship and undermine freedom of speech.